In college I once had an assignment where I had to interview someone over the age of 50, about pretty much anything that was pertinent to when and where they lived. So I decided to talk to one of Chris' uncles about his experiences in the Vietnam War, a subject I've always been somewhat interested in. If I remember correctly, I got an "A" on the assignment.
Roy Lansdale may be in his fifties, but he is still a robust, strong man. He has gray hair, and large work hardened hands. No stranger to hard work, he has worked as a bricklayer a large portion of his life, and has also worked in the oil fields. In March of 1968, as a young man, he was drafted into the military, where he worked in communications. Exactly a year later, in March 1969, he volunteered to go to Vietnam, where he did artillery work. Artillery is a long-distance battle, so he didn’t see much action, that was the infantry. One thing he did see was the South Vietnamese people. He saw how they lived, and how the war affected their lives
KU: What was your opinion on the war? Do you think we should have been over there, or do you think we should have stayed out?
RL: Vietnam wasn’t nothing but a big money war, between the big companies and stuff. Actually, we should have never got over there, unless they were gonna finish it, which would have been easy to have done, but the big companies didn’t want it to finish because they were making too much money off of it. We’d go pick up supplies, and you’d see these big blocks, around the VA and stuff, and you’d see lumber sitting out there rotting. Cokes, cans of beer and stuff, back then they were in the tin cans, and they’d just sit out there and rust. It was all a big money war…
We had to get rid of our own trash and stuff. We made sure there wasn’t nothing in it of any importance. I seen them put those pint, um, quart deals of milk right out by the barrel, during the burning of some of the trash, it would turn the cartons black, sitting around that barrel. We’d take lard and butter and stuff, the big gallon cans, they’d open them up and push the lid down in there. We’d hauled it off one day, and, the boys went to unload it, and the [South] Vietnamese was unloading it. And they was just reaching their hands down in that butter and lard and stuff, and eating it, and they was drinking that milk, with it being burnt like that. And you know it had to be ruined, because it was ruined when they set it out there. And of course, being by that barrel and stuff, the heat didn’t help it. I actually seen them drink it, and run their hands and stuff down in that butter and lard and eating it. And they’d cut their hands on them lids that were smashed down in there, and they’d bleed in it and just still be eating it. The butter and stuff, of course, I guess, you know, wasn’t ruined, but you know how that stuff just gets tasting old. It was sickening to sit there and watch them drinking that milk and stuff. They had to have had iron stomachs; I couldn’t even stand the smell of it. You didn’t have to use the dump; they’d unload it, looking for stuff, you know. There was a big hole in the ground you were supposed to dump in, but you didn’t get the chance, because they were always looking through the stuff you threw away, so that was the reason you didn’t throw anything of importance away. You just threw away stuff that was literally trash.
It shows you what kind of country they were, they weren’t totally developed yet, what you’d call developed. The South Vietnamese, actually, were good people, they were just poor people.
KU: Following up on that, what were the living conditions like for the South Vietnamese? What effects did the war have on the regular people?
RL: Like the farmers? Well, I don’t know, really what effect it had, but it would keep them from developing. Because if they did grow anything that the Vietnamese that lived there didn’t need, they [The North Vietnamese] would take it away from them, because there wasn’t that many ARVNs, or South Vietnamese soldiers there to protect them. So they’d just come through there and take what they wanted. What you seen was just all rice paddies, over where we was at there was a lot of them.
I seen them out there making hooches one time, had a mud hole out there and they’d throw straw in it, and walk around on it, and mix that straw and mud up and make their hooches out of it. They lived in dirt floors, mud houses and stuff, which over there was probably about as cool as you could get. But you didn’t see no dogs over there either. [Laughing]
It’s just something that you have to experience. You’re covering basically good people. Like I said, they were what I guess you’d call undeveloped… They kept to themselves really. The North Vietnamese, and I’m not sure, but I think some of the Koreans had something to do with it, because you’d see one of them mixed in with them North Vietnamese soldiers once in a while. Basically it just all came down to a big money war for the big shots to make money off of. Especially [President] Johnson.
KU: Yeah, I’ve heard people say that before…
RL: It was, you could sit over there and see things go to waste… You’d see them [the South Vietnamese soldiers] running up and down the roads with new guns and cannons and stuff, and we’d be sitting there, I was in charge of communications and we were supposed to have a Jeep, and a three-quarter, and a deuce-and-a-half, and I think we just had a deuce-and-a-half. The Vietnamese were running down the road with new trucks, new guns. Our M-60 for guard duty was so bad you could bump it and it’d go off even when it was on safety. As a matter a fact, one of our guys got killed by it… He made a mistake and sat down in front of that gun, and one of the guys on guard duty with him bumped that gun, and it went off and shot him in the back and killed him. There was a lot of casualties caused by your own country. We couldn’t get nothing, they gave it all to the Vietnamese. They called us “police action,” [laughing] we were policemen. If they’d called it a war it wouldn’t have lasted long. They wouldn’t do it.
KU: Were you ever in or around any major battles, the Tet Offensive or anything like that?
RL: No, we weren’t in that area. Like I said, I was in artillery… They knew when they was coming in and stuff. Artillery could pretty well hold them off if they knew they were coming. They had shells you’d shoot and they’d explode and fan out with little bitty darts, like needles. You didn’t want to get in front of them, regardless of where you was at, whether you was on the ground or… Perry said he found some sometimes people would be pinned to trees with them.
KU: My uncle was in Vietnam, and he stepped on something like that, a mine that shot shrapnel everywhere. It messed up his right arm, he couldn’t use it very well, and he had to have a glass eye.
[We got off the subject for a while, it turns out he worked with my grandfather in the oil fields and used to be friends with my uncle and my father when they were young. So we ended up talking about family for a while, but eventually got back on subject.]
RL: That place messed up a lot of guy’s minds. It didn’t bother me too much, we did ours from a distance and we didn’t get to see a lot of victims. Every once in a while we’d have a little bit of trouble but nothing much. Just what they called “keep you honest.” Throw in a few rounds once in a while. I was always kinda scared the whole time we was over there, cause he had a big pit full of gas over there. Of course, they were in these rubber bladders that would stop a lot of it, but if a round had ever hit that it would have busted one of them and it would’ve went off and it would have been hot. Like I said, I was lucky, I didn’t see a whole lot. Just enough to know that I didn’t want to either.
KU: Did you see anything over there…like anything that really bothered you?
RL: Occasionally you know, but the worst was when that gun went off and killed that guy. I was in charge that night. It kinda bothered me, it also bothered me that we didn’t have the equipment good enough to take care of ourselves. So it all falls back to money.
RL: Basically we had good people, everybody tried to look after one another, but you’d run into an asshole once in a while. We had this E6 once that tried to pull rank all the time, but it didn’t do him a lot of good…
We got along pretty good with everybody, except for one drill sergeant. Me and him got into it cause he wanted me to do a bunch of pushups, we had been marching two or three miles with all that gear on, and it was hurting my shoulders where I tore the cartilage one time. We get back and for no reason at all, he wanted me to do pushups and I just laid there and I told him that my shoulder hurt and I wasn’t going to do a damn thing. So we went over to the captain and the captain said something and the drill sergeant didn’t like it and he tried to push me down and I threw him over my shoulder so that was about the end of it.
KU: You talked about it messing with people’s minds, and I’ve heard that there was a lot of drug use over there that also contributed to it.
RL: There was. I didn’t see a lot of it, but I saw a little. They didn’t have a lot of drugs, but they had one over there it was called liquid speed, and it would screw you up. And if they could get marijuana, a lot of them would get on that stuff. Some of them would get caught and they’d make them go back to the main base, and stay there… Most of them you didn’t want them around anyway, ‘cause they could get somebody hurt.
KU: When you got back there were a lot of anti-war protests and a lot of anger against returning soldiers. Did you ever encounter any of that?
RL: I never encountered any of that, I heard about it but never encountered any of it. We had around that Fort Benning in that honor guard we went over there and trained for riot control because they were having that plus all the black stuff in 68 and 69, and we were training for riot control. I think that worried me worse than going to Vietnam, you know. What do you do with your own people? We was lucky that things settled back down, and then I went over seas. Then they had that one college where four or six of them got killed, that’s kinda what I was afraid of. That’s what worried me so much. They train you for it, but there’s nothing, nothing about something going different, nothing ever goes like you’re trained for. But that was one thing I was proud to quit before we had to do it.